Clearing Up a Murky Situation

Foreclosures, rising temperatures contribute to formula for ‘green’ swimming pools

Things may get steamy as the lavish pools on the Strip heat up. But at many residential pools across the Valley, it’s been just plain muggy.

As the temperature rises, typically so do complaints about pools that have become stagnant ponds, a problem that’s increased with more homes being abandoned because of foreclosures. With foreclosures down this year, “green” pool complaints are slowly starting to follow suit—down 6 percent compared to March 2009, according to the Southern Nevada Health District. But with 300 complaints in the last month, the problem is far from resolved.

The main concern for health officials is that standing water becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which could potentially spread West Nile virus. In 2009, there were 12 reported cases in Las Vegas of West Nile virus, which is transferred through the bite of an infected mosquito. And the heaviest mosquito-ridden months of April through October have just started.

Once the health district gets a complaint about an abandoned pool at a foreclosed home or one that’s been neglected by homeowners, Vivek Raman, vector control supervisor for the health district, dispatches his team. They use chemicals to kill mosquito larvae and also release a brigade of algae-eating mosquitofish. “The fish have helped us save a lot of chemicals. They’re a little a bit more eco-friendly, you could say,” Raman says. It takes 100 of the guppy-sized fish about a month to rid a pool of algae.

The first treatment is free, but the property owner must take action after that, whether it’s calling a professional to drain the pool or keeping up with cleanings. “We’ve had a couple bad actors—people with lingering pool issues. But they ultimately end up paying back into the system,” Raman says. About half the funding for the treatments comes from the county and half from the health district’s collected permit fees from sanitation inspections.

The health district will check back after about three weeks, and if nothing’s been done and another cleaning is required, they’ll invoice the owner for $132 for each subsequent treatment. The tricky part can be tracking down the owner in the case of a foreclosed home, Raman says. The health district will post a notice on the door in case the real-estate agent or bank representative comes by the property. Or the district will mail a notice of violation to the homeowner on record.

But the upside to the pool crisis is that business is booming for pool-service companies. Buyers are increasingly purchasing foreclosed homes, and a clean pool is part of passing inspections. George Neddo, owner of ASAP Pool Services, says his company is picking up one or two pools each week in addition to the 250 it already cleans weekly. He said his most in-demand service right now is acid-washing the walls and refilling the pool.

While business might be good, the job is still ugly. “I just picked up a foreclosure pool the other day that wasn’t touched for a whole year,” he says. “I was covered in green from head to toe. When you walk out of there, you’re not looking good.”

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